Education Now: Break the Cycle of Poverty
Today,125 million primary-school-aged children are not in school; most of them are girls. Another 150 million children start primary school but drop out before they have completed four years of education, the vast majority before they have acquired basic literacy skills.
If all children of primary school age were to receive a good quality basic education lasting for a minimum of four years, the problem of illiteracy would be resolved in the space of a single generation.
Faced by facts like these in March 1999 Oxfam International launched it’s Education Now campaign.
So what’s involved in providing education to all the world’s children?
- Funds, amounting to an extra $8 billion a year for 10 years, must be made available by rich countries through debt relief and increased aid, and in developing countries by reprioritising their budgets.
- Developing countries must prioritise education.
- A framework for action must be established to co-ordinate the various actors, paying particular attention to Sub Saharan Africa where the education crisis is at its worst.
Although much of the hard work will need to be done by developing countries, rich countries must ensure that none of this effort fails through lack of money.
Substantial changes were made, in 1999, to the existing (HIPC) debt relief procedures for poor countries. Oxfam has been an active part of Jubilee 2000, and following major campaigning during 1999, the G7 countries agreed in June at their meeting in Cologne to improve the HIPC framework. This was later confirmed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) at their Annual meeting in Washington, in September.
The new deal doubled the amount of debt relief on offer, and may provide up to $100 billion in debt relief for some of the world’s poorest countries. In addition to these improvements, some countries went further in 1999, both the US and the UK joined Canada in agreeing 100 per cent cancellation of debt owed directly to their governments.
Unfortunately the agreed debt relief still goes only half way to addressing the needs of some of these countries. A country like Mali will still spend as much on debt repayments as on health and education.
The World Bank and IMF now say that poverty reduction is their main priority. A key element within this new anti-poverty focus at the IMF is the introduction of a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). PRGF replaces the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF), which frequently led to indebted countries implementing drastic social spending cuts, resulting in fewer children in school. The key issue is whether this leads to serious policy change. Their new policies and procedures will need monitoring to ensure that they will work in practice as well as in theory.
The Education for All Forum was set up to keep basic education high on the world’s political agenda. It is sponsored, in large part, by the United Nations, and organises meetings of key international decision-makers, such as the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000.
The EFA Forum’s main activity has been the EFA 2000 Assessment, a review of progress towards achieving basic education for all. Oxfam, however, would rather the Forum looked forward to develop solutions to the global education crisis. Oxfam has resigned from the steering committee to the World Forum on
Education for All on February 9, because that draft framework for action that leaders will be given in Dakar to endorse is, at present, woefully inadequate.
The UK government and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, are in a unique position to take the lead internationally and drive forward the goal of education for all. The UK government took a lead over debt relief, using its influence in leading the international community to commit to cancelling Third World debt. To make sure education for all becomes a reality, Oxfam GB is asking Tony Blair to make education for all his personal, international priority for the millennium.
For more information contact Oxfam on 01865 313600, or visit www.oxfam.org.uk/educationnow